Hidden East Anglia:
Landscape Legends of Eastern England
Just south of the church is the farm building that remains of the old 15th century Manor House (TL433553). Two passages are said to lead from the cellars beneath, one of which is merely a later brick-lined drain. The other, now blocked, is rumoured to run all the way to King's College chapel in Cambridge (TL447584). Supposedly, the tunnel was an escape route for the college in the event of plague. A legend common to the folklore of Britain says that once, a man decided to explore the tunnel, playing the fiddle as he went so that onlookers could keep track of him. The music grew fainter the further he travelled, until it faded away completely, and the man was never seen again. Some time later the tunnel was blocked off.1
It's possible that the tale was suggested by - or was commemorated in - the nearby field name of Fiddler's Close, that appears on a 17th century map. It was already being ridiculed by 1875, when a Grantchester historian wrote: "The absurdity of this story is proved by the fact that part of the end wall has been removed, showing that it went no further; moreover the end is built of the same kind of stone, and appears to be of the same date as the other parts".
Nevertheless, he added that: "There is however a veritable subterranean passage leading from the cellar, built, arched, and floored with brick; it can still be traversed for about 20 yards, at which point it is bricked across; this has been done within living memory to prevent thieves gaining access to the house, which event actually occurred on one occasion; it is 50 inches high and 20 wide." Not exactly the dimensions of a tunnel that could be traversed by a man playing a fiddle.2 A more modern source says that a 20th century investigation showed the tunnel heading for Grantchester church rather than for Cambridge.3
1. Enid Porter: ‘Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore’, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), p.183.
2. Samuel Page Widnall: 'A History of Grantchester in the County of Cambridge' (Widnall, 1875), p.105-6.
3. Lionel & Patricia Fanthorpe: 'The World's Greatest Unsolved Mysteries' (Hounslow Press, 1997), p.132.
Sunken Church Field
South of the village and beside the Roman A11 is Sunken Church Field (TL514462), on land belonging to Abington Park Farm. Here legend says are the buried remains of a ruined church or chapel from long ago. Although people used to avoid the spot after dark, a spectral choir could be heard singing if a person put their ear to the ground on a moonlit night. Plus, the sound of bells ringing deep underground could sometimes be heard.1 This tradition might be a memory of some actual stone foundations once being visible in the field. Although only coins and pottery have been found so far, cropmarks suggest that there might have been a Roman villa on the site.2
1. Enid Porter: ‘Cambridgeshire Customs & Folklore’, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), p.63-4.
The golden coach
Mutlow Hill (TL547544) is the name of both a Bronze Age burial mound, and the small hill upon which it stands, next to the Anglo Saxon defensive earthwork called the Fleam Dyke. The edge of the hill is where three parishes and three Hundreds meet, and the name itself suggests a meeting-place. Before excavations in 1852 revealed no such thing, a legend was in place stating that a gold coach was buried within the mound.1 Later sources have described it as a golden chariot,2,3 with at least one placing it inside the dyke rather than the mound, before being told by a local informant that they had heard it was actually buried in the nearby road.3
1. R. C. Neville: 'Account of Excavations near the Fleam Dyke, Cambridgeshire, April 1852', in 'The Archaeological Journal' (1852), Vol. IX, p.226.
2. Enid Porter: ‘Folklore of East Anglia’ (Batsford, 1974), p.95.
3. T. C. Lethbridge: 'GogMagog: The Buried Gods' (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1957), p.9-10.
During the 12th century, much of both Great and Little Wilbraham was owned by the Knights Templar, and afterwards, by their successors the Knights Hospitaller. The manor house known as Wilbraham Temple (TL553579) dates from around 1600, but stands on or very near the site of the Templars' preceptory. An underground passage was said to run from here to St. Nicholas' church (TL548577), 400m to the south-west. The church itself dates from Templar, having been heavily rebuilt by them in the early 13th century.